Category Archives: Film Festivals

Bender in Cannes ART

Bender In Cannes

by Michael Elias

A screenwriter is frustrated at the Cannes Film Festival – until he stops caring about it. 3,283 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Ira, pleased with Bender’s free rewrite of his script, arranged a meeting with Tarik Azziz, a Moroccan film producer and financier, who would also house Bender for a couple of nights in his villa in Cap d’Antibes. Bender arrived at the Cannes Film Festival well armed. He had a script, an interested producer, and a room. It was now up to Bender to find a way to fuck it up.

As he wandered the Croisette, Bender wondered where he got his policy of walking out of waiting rooms after thirty minutes? What was the purpose, what was the result? From his seat on the Ikea couch of the office suite he could see the Moroccan producer talking on the phone in his office, ignoring Bender. Not a wave, not even a raised hand: Sorry, give me a minute.

Bender allowed himself one more pleading glance at the receptionist, who returned a minimal shrug. The ten minutes flew, he added another five, then five more and got up and left. No one pursued him down the hallway. No one flew after him begging forgiveness, clutching his sleeves, and begging him to return. As he stepped in the elevator it occurred to him that they might have thought he had gone to the bathroom.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Four

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic is a suspect in a second murder at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,903 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


There were enough security guards to stock an island dictatorship. Instead of colorful uniforms with feathered hats, gaudy medals and polished swords, they wore Armani tuxedos. The crack unit stood at attention in front of the mansion gate for the Cannes Film Festival’s elegant party. Despite their disciplined pose, their eyes were riveted on Ryan’s model girlfriend Delisha.

Within seconds, an attendant pulled up with a gleaming Aston Martin V12 bestowed on Ryan for the long drive back to town and belonging to one of the movie producer-distributors. At least half the valet parkers rushed to help Delisha into the passenger side. She slid into the classic vehicle. “Allons y,” Delisha called out, bestowing a celebratory wave.

Ryan idled the car as the iron gates snapped open with crisp precision, spreading their steel in a deferential backward swoop, like an old-fashioned servant. Only then did Ryan punch the pedal and sail through the estate’s stone entrance.

Delisha clasped his hand. “Home, James.”

“Bond, James Bond,” Ryan called out in his best 007 accent.

Delisha giggled and planted a quick kiss on his neck. For the moment, Ryan felt like the glamorous super-agent. The trouble was: he didn’t really know how to work a shift. Maybe, if it was all downhill, they could continue in this gear.

“You’re grinding. You’ve got to let it out,” Delisha said.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Three

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood movie critic, no longer a murder suspect, tries to cover the Cannes Film Festival. 2,640 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


When the Hollywood New Times chief film reporter swooped out of the elevator, he nearly ran down the trade’s top film critic, Ryan Hackbert.  “You haven’t returned any of my messages,” Stan Peck said as he came through the entrance to the Hotel Savoy. ”I’d like to get your side of the story.” Peck pulled out a digital recorder and flicked the switch.

“My side of the story is nothing,” Ryan answered. “The police asked me in for questioning and were satisfied with my answers. I know nothing about the murder.”

Ryan quickened his step. Peck clicked off the tape and said unhappily, “You know it’s ironic that you, a member of the press, aren’t talking to me, another member of the press.”

“I’m a very ironic guy. You can quote me on that.”

“Seriously, you were hauled in. You said in your review that she should be strangled.”

“I criticized the dialogue. A new editor mangled it with the scarf thing. The police understood,” Ryan answered.

"This murder of yours is screwing up my Cannes coverage," Peck continued. "I’ve got to go to this stupid press conference about it when I should be having breakfast with the TriCoast people. They’re going to announce a new slate." Peck paused to twist the knife a little deeper. "But a lot of people out there still think you’re guilty. That you killed that blond actress from The Ice Princess at the Carlton."

Despite the momentary high of jerking Peck around, Ryan was pissed at himself for giving Peck between-the-lines hints about the police interrogation. As much as Ryan hated to admitt, Peck reflected a fair amount of what would be movie industry opinion, as berserk as that could be. By doing nothing, Ryan was screwing up everyone’s Cannes Film Festival including his own. This was his eleventh time here. He needed to get back into his normal festival mode.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

The lead actress of the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival is murdered – and a Hollywood film critic is the prime suspect. Part One. Part Three. 3,744 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The French National Police gendarmes hurried Ryan Cromwell through reception, which resembled a cheap hotel lobby, and down a narrow brown hallway. They propelled him into an interrogation room only slightly larger than a bread box and painted gas chamber green. A man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dull black suit befitting a homicide detective, studied a copy of the day’s Hollywood Times. The page was opened to Ryan Cromwell’s review of The Ice Princess. The cop looked directly at Ryan. Then looked down at the paper. Then back up at Ryan.

”We have some questions for you, Monsieur Cromwell,” the detective said in a monotone and perfect English.

”Please, tell me what’s going on?” Ryan’s voice cracked, and his mouth was dry. “Why was I dragged down here?”

“My name is Inspector Thiereaux. I wish to talk about your film critique. In your criticism of The Ice Princess film, you wrote, ‘The script is so bad that one hopes that the film’s signature blue scarf would be stuffed down Kristen Bjorge’s throat so we wouldn’t have to hear her utter another word of dialogue.’”

”What do you mean, ‘stuffed down her throat’? I never wrote that.”

“It is right here.” The policeman shoved the review across the table. Ryan grabbed it and scanned the opening paragraph. He had begun with a discussion about lead actress Kristen’s screen presence. None of that was there.

“These are not my words,” Ryan said.

“I do not understand.”

“Sometimes the editors cut or rewrite my reviews. This is appalling. Because it blatantly misrepresents my thoughts. I would never take such a vulgar and aggressive tone. It’s so Internet.”

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.

For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.

Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.

Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.

“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.

“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”

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jLe Jet Lag Part Four

Le Jet Lag
Part Four

by Peter Lefcourt

The Cannes Film Festival ends and with it the escapades of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Three. 3,614 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.


The next morning, American film publicist Erika Marks sat down with Crimea star Hanna Lee Hedson in the luxurious Carlton Hotel on La Croisette and said, choosing her words carefully, “Do you want the film to win the Palme d’Or?”

“Why else would I have shown up in this fucking country?”

“We may have a little obstacle. The French like low-budget art films and this is a budget-busting Hollywood movie. We’d like you to do a news conference today. This will be the last one, I promise. But you’re a fifteen-minute appearance at the Palais away from winning the Cannes Film Festival. With that, you can do any picture you want.”

This thought penetrated deeply into the soft tissue of actress Hanna Lee Hedson’s ego, the place where she lived most of the time. What Erika didn’t tell Hanna was that her film career probably would never recover from all these Crimea press conferences demonstrating her lack of compassion for minority groups. Or that the actress definitely would lose a large chunk of her gross-profit participation revenue when the movie tanked at the box office.

But neither Erika nor her PR boss Larry Moulds cared. They were still focused on ensuring Crimea didn’t win the most prestigious festival award. Or any Cannes award, for that matter. “The Armenians could picket the event. It’d be great pub,” Larry said to Erika an hour later.

“We don’t want overkill. These people get very excited. They could do something really stupid,” Erika reminded him.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Some crazy could take a shot at her.”

“So? Could you buy that type of ink?”

In spite of all her years in the business, Erika never ceased to be amazed at what people would do to promote a movie. Kill off the star? Why not? The movie was in the can, and they had all the loops they needed. So who needed Hanna?

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Le Jet Lag Part Three

Le Jet Lag
Part Three

by Peter Lefcourt

The further Cannes Film Festival adventures of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Four. 3,024 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The Cannes Film Festival jury president, Matthieu Brioche, wasn’t used to getting turned down by women. And he certainly was not used to being left standing in a hotel hallway at two in the morning after an American publicist pushing a film in contention had given him her room number. That was not simply rejection — that was a disgrace. So when his phone rang and he heard the femme in question, Hollywood film publicist Erika Marks – slightly past her prime but enticing none the less, like a bottle of 1975 Chateau Margaux with a leaky cork — inviting him to breakfast, he told her that he had a screening to attend. Erika Marks was proving to be, if not devious, then clueless. He liked that piece of American slang. Though he thought the film with Alicia Silverstone was a turkey. He liked that word, too. He just wouldn’t eat one.

Erika Marks didn’t blame Matthieu Brioche for being pissed. She had given him every indication she was interested. And she hadn’t even been particularly subtle about it. But now that her express orders from her studio boss were to not sleep with the Frenchman, thank God she hadn’t made things worse by jury tampering. Instead, she was just guilty of cock teasing. A misdemeanor.

Outside her door, next to the complimentary copy of USA Today, someone had left that day’s Screen International. Grabbing it, she got back into bed with the trade paper, eager to read the expected hatchet job that film critic Harry Harrington had done on her studio’s picture Crimea. The piece turned out to be great press. It fostered a want-to-see in the reader, which was the name of the game. Her boss Larry Moulds back in Beverly Hills would go ballistic. God forbid, the review could even result in Crimea winning the Palme d’Or. Then they’d really be fucked since their marching orders within the last 24 hours were to kill the film’s Cannes chances.

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Le Jet Lag
Part Two

by Peter Lefcourt

Craziness continues for a publicist, journalist and producer attending the Cannes Film Festival. Part One. Part Three.  4,208 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Larry Moulds, studio Vice President for Publicity and Marketing, had been there and done that. As a unit publicist, he had accompanied movies and worked his tail off, coming home exhausted, sick, and, worst of all, empty-handed. The Cannes Film Festival was an all-or-nothing deal. No matter how you spun it, if you weren’t a winner, you were a loser.

His boss, studio head Vivian Rakmunis, had threatened to send him but she hadn’t actually sent him. Yet. But if his publicist Erika Marks didn’t produce some buzz soon, his ass was on the plane. He picked up his office phone and dialed the Hotel Carlton. Larry realized that he’d be waking up Erika in the middle of the night in France. Fuck her. It was her job to be on call 24/7.

It took seven rings before Erika picked up the phone.

Oui?”

“I love it when you talk dirty.”

“Larry? It’s…three-thirty in the morning.”

“Vivian isn’t seeing any ink on the picture. You don’t start producing, Vivian is going to send me over there. And you don’t want me there, do you? So what about jury tampering? You invite the Cannes jury president back for a shtupp?

“Larry, I’m not having sex with anyone on the jury. Can I go back to sleep?”

When he hung up, Erika was sitting up in bed, wide awake and furious. The digital bedside clock read 3:40 a.m. She had to be up at seven to flack the studio’s entry Crimea. If Larry arrived, she’d give him the keys to the car, kiss him on both cheeks, take a plane home, and sell real estate. Between the stress and the jet lag, she was not looking forward to the all-important interview with Paris Match for the film’s spoiled star, Hanna Lee Hedson.

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Le Jet Lag Part One

Le Jet Lag
Part One

by Peter Lefcourt

A journalist, publicist and producer try their best to withstand the Cannes Film Festival’s worst. Part Two. 4,883 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.


Who do you have to fuck to make sure you don’t win a Palme d’Or at Cannes? Can a studio publicist with a tit job and a smattering of French, along with her boss, a VP involuntarily channeling Golda Meir, manage to sabotage the chances of their own film? Is it possible for a former Academy Award winning producer, fallen on hard times, to find financing for the middle third of a movie after he’s already shot the beginning and end with money provided by a consortium of Canadian periodontists? Will a sympathy slowdown of taxi drivers, chambermaids and Perrier suppliers, in support of local sex workers striking for improved dental benefits, bring Cannes to its knees? All these questions Jack Kemper, bottom-feeding entertainment journalist, would answer in time.

But at the moment, wedged in an economy seat in an Air France jet, coming into the Nice/Cote d’Azur airport after a bumpy flight from Paris, his thoughts were concentrated on who would get the lead obit in the trades if the plane went down.

For Jack’s first trip to Cannes, he’d been a stringer for the International Herald Tribune which put him up in the Carlton. And all he had to do was file 500 words a day — which he phoned in, literally. This time his press credentials were from Moviefan.com, a startup operated by a couple of film geeks in Van Nuys. And he would be staying on the wrong side of the Voie Rapide on his own nickel in a 95-Euro a night room a 20-minute walk to the Croisette and full, no doubt, of middle-market hookers and distribution people from central Asia. What the fuck was he doing here anyway? The glamour of Cannes was long gone. It had degenerated into a bazaar, as tight-fisted and venal as a camel market in Beirut. The place was full of accountants and lawyers doing deals. The screenings, the stars, the red carpet had become the sideshow. The real action was the film market. It was all about back-end financing and capitalizing your production investment with a distribution deal. For every hundred people in town, 99 of them were looking for the one guy with the checkbook.

Kemper deplaned and headed for baggage claim where an American film publicist was speaking bad French on her phone. Kemper took a closer look at her. She had that demented, already exhausted, jet-lagged look just 20 minutes after arriving. But Kemper liked a bit of mileage on women. Ten years ago, all you had to do to get laid during Cannes was stand in one place long enough. These days, if you had a few hours free, you slept or read your email. Or, if worse came to worst, you saw a movie.

Kemper waited for her to click off and, with his best smile, said, “First time in Cannes?”

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Sundance

by Bernard Weinraub

A Sundance Film Festival print journalist despairs because bloggers are thriving. 4,219 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I met Billy McNulty in the Avis parking lot at the airport in Salt Lake City. He had walked past me on the plane 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3from Los Angeles, a vaguely familiar face whom I had seen at one or two press screenings at Paramount or Fox. Outside, the predicted blizzard had tapered off and a sprinkle of snow was flying in the wind.  The street was covered with ice that was being sanded as I arrived.

It was crowded, actually mobbed and chaotic, at the airport, one day before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, and the flight from L.A. had disgorged hundreds of people carrying luggage, cameras and boxes. Ten minutes later, a flight from JFK arrived. The same scene. Everyone looked very young and bedraggled — certainly younger but just as bedraggled as I did. It was January 1996.

I was standing in line when, just outside, there was a commotion. At the door of a minivan with the sign "SUNDANCE – PRESS" posted, a crowd had gathered. A burly fellow was pushing a smaller guy out of the bus onto the street and screaming, "Get the fuck away. Asshole. Prick."

The victim was McNulty, who fell to the ground. The bus door closed. Someone came over and helped McNulty get up. The crowd dispersed. Just another mini-drama among quasi-talented filmmakers at Salt Lake City airport.

The grim woman behind the Avis counter gave me the keys to a Ford Explorer — you need a four-wheel drive for the icy roads — and a printed card with directions how to reach Park City. Before I could say a word, she shouted, “Next.” It was freezing when I left the terminal. Even bundled up in a down jacket, woolen hat and gloves, I was shivering. Without snow boots, which I had stupidly packed in my luggage, my toes turned icy. I scurried to the parking lot, my laptop over my shoulder, rolling my big valise filled with sweaters, woolen socks, thermal underwear and thick ski pants. As I waited at the light to cross the street, Bill McNulty stood next to me.

"Hey," he said.

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Sundown At Sundance
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

A film critic at the Sundance Film Festival finds himself the target of a payoff plot. 2,231 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


“De-lish-a,” the sound came tripping off his tongue, à la Lo-li-ta.

Hollywood film critic Ryan Cromwell wound 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3his way around the fireplace at the Eating Establishment for Saturday breakfast. He was meeting his friend Delisha at one of his favorite restaurants on Park City’s Main Street. Delisha wrapped her two-iPhone-holding arms around Ryan. She looked him up-and-down. “Is that your Viking film-critic look?” she asked about his Norwegian ski sweater.

“I left my helmet with the horns back at the hotel,” he said. Then Ryan noticed he had buttoned his sweater wrong. When he undid the top connections, his hands shook. He gulped water and noticed his right fingers trembled on the glass. He put it down and placed his hands in his lap. He shifted in his seat.

“You seem edgy,” Delisha said. “Is everything okay?”

“This festival is going haywire for me already,” he said, looking around and lowering his voice. “My second suitcase with mainly my underwear, socks and shaving stuff is all gone.”

“Someone stole your underwear?”

“No, but they’re missing. When I opened the suitcase this morning, it was filled with stacks of $20 bills,” he said. “I was going to call the police, but I thought I’d better do it in person.”

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Sundown At Sundance
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A noted film critic arrives for what he expects to be just another Sundance Film Festival. 2,544 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Are you going to Shoot Mom?”

Ryan Cromwell pulled off his headset and glanced 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3up from his airline seat. A guy in a blue Cubs cap hovered over him.

A stewardess came forward, looking alarmed.

Shoot Mom — are you going to the screening?” the Chicago baseball fan repeated.

“Sir, you’ll have to sit down,” the stewardess commanded. “The warning light is on.”

The guy retreated back down the aisle. Ryan Cromwell settled back into his seat. He turned to the woman next to him who’d been watching the incident unfold.

“Sorry about that. Occupational hazard,” he said.

“You must be in a dangerous profession,” she said. “Homeland Security?”

Ryan smiled: “No, more dangerous. I’m a film critic.”

He was one of Hollywood’s chief film critics, headed to Salt Lake City from L.A. for the Sundance Film Festival. His reviews of independent film could make or break the pictures as well as launch or end careers. They were especially important at an indie film festival like Sundance where the discovery of new talent was the paramount focus. Ryan’s film reviews at previous fests had helped catapult first-time filmmakers such as Gina Prince Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Justin Lowe (Better Luck Tomorrow), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and many other rookies. January was his favorite time of year because he was reviewing films that were not just vampire, zombie, special-effects and franchise movies that were critic-proof and, in Ryan’s view, brain resistant.

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Monumental
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival goes from great to horrible for these moviemakers. 2,233 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


As they were packing, Philippe Renoir called to inform the filmmakers that they would finally be meeting their financier Errivo Monsour on the Red Carpet at the Venice Film Festival. After the screening, they would be swept off to his yacht for a lavish fête. Philippe dropped several A-list names before hanging up.

Cynthia spent the next three days in Beverly Hills trying to find the perfect dress. Harlan bought that Ralph Lauren tuxedo he’d promised himself.

Venice was not the picture postcard they’d envisioned. The late August weather was the equivalent of being locked inside a sauna that hadn’t been cleaned in months. The canals gave off the stench of rotting vegetables marinating in a dull brown broth. The streets were clogged with sweaty overbearing tourists. But at least the hotel didn’t disappoint. It was elegantly gaudy and the employees bowed and scraped every time the couple walked past. And room service was delightful.

The filmmakers had flown in a few days early to screen their passion project Monumental for distributors; several seemed genuinely interested afterwards but were loathe to commit until they saw the feature with an audience. The one firm offer they did receive, a direct to cable deal, they turned down flat. Monsour’s representative, Philippe, expressed his annoyance, he being of the bird-in-the-hand school. Harlan said he felt confident a distributor would bite after the premiere. But it was Cynthia who had to point out a contractual obligation he’d forgotte: in the agreements, both leading ladies had inserted a provision demanding a theatrical release. So no streaming services or pay channels were possible.

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Monumental
Part One

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival was the culmination of their dreams. 1,719 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The source material for their project, an obscure novella called “Fork In The Road,” was the story of two life-long female friends whose paths diverge. One pursues a career as a medical researcher, the other becomes a hardened criminal. But in the end, it’s the latter who has the more emotionally satisfying life. She becomes an angel of mercy in prison, redeeming herself through altruism. The story was tersely written, and because it was delivered without even a trace of sentimentality or bathos, earned the tears Cynthia shed when reading it.

She passed it on to Harlan, who also found the story compelling but pointed out “as a movie it screams ‘woman’s picture.’ The only male characters are incidental. And before you give me ‘the lecture,’ I’m only telling you what every producer in town is going to say, even the female producers. Just trying to prepare you.”

Married just two years, but together for six, they’d discussed several co-scripting projects for Harlan to direct but so far nothing had jelled. Cynthia was keeping them afloat with residuals from a long-running TV series in which she’d been a supporting cast member, and a combination of TV commercials, voice-over work and guest-starring assignments. She was regularly cast in pilots, none of which ever went to series. Harlan, meanwhile was directing local theater and temping as a teacher.

Like many of their aspiring friends, they were just getting by, stuck in gear, in desperate need of forward momentum.

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